by Stephanie Laurens

March 1999
ISBN: 0-380-80568-5
Reviewer Graphic Button Avon Books
Mass Market Paperback

Richard Cynster (nicknamed "Scandal" through no fault of his own) journeys to Scotland to settle an inheritance and incidentally avoid the marriage-minded mamas who are descending on the eligible Cynster males after the weddings of Devil, Duke of St. Ives, and his cousin Vane Cynster. Determined not to be the next Cynster to fall victim to a woman (yeah right), Richard travels to McEnery House, a bleak and cold mansion in the Highlands. There, he learns to his surprise that he is part and parcel of Seamus McEnery's last will and testament - he is to agree to wed McEnery's ward within seven days or the entire estate will go to the Church! Needless to say, the ward, one Catriona Hennessey, is outraged. Not only does she not wish to marry, she is the Lady of the Vale of Casphairn, a position that she takes very seriously. She has a duty to protect those living in her vale and must follow the old beliefs and ways with the land and its people. [This is an interesting and unusual title because during the Regency it was a rare exception to find a woman heading a family. Most estates were entailed through the male line and females were seldom even mentioned.]

Strong-willed and beautiful, Catriona immediately catches Richard's attention and he is drawn to her independent spirit as well as her loveliness. Coincidentally, Catriona's beliefs have made it clear that Richard must be her mate. Can she find a way to accomplish this without giving up her independence? Her solution will leave you breathless - in fact I almost took off half a star when rating this book because I didn't believe a human woman could survive such passion with Richard Cynster the way Catriona does! But that's Catriona - determined to accomplish her goals in what she feels is the best way possible.

Of course, Stephanie Laurens skillfully keeps this sensual kettle on full boil as she takes Richard and Catriona back to the Vale of Casphairn. Here, Richard has to come to terms with the fact that Catriona is head of the community - he finds his position difficult to define. Catriona, on the other hand, is finding it hard to know exactly how Richard feels about her work, and her life in the Vale. In fact, Catriona is in some doubt about how Richard feels about her! However, various crises keep everyone on their toes and at one point Richard summons his brother Devil and cousin Vane to Casphairn. The strong family ties that bind the Cynsters into such a formidable group are a surprise to Catriona, as are Honoria and Patience, both pregnant, who accompany their husbands to Scotland. Are Catriona and Richard destined to continue the saga of blissful Cynster marriages? Can one angry woman's actions jeopardize everything Catriona has come to cherish? Well, it is no surprise that Stephanie Laurens remains true to her creations - have the Cynsters ever failed at love? This is probably the most erotic of the Cynster stories; be prepared for the passions and lush sensuality of Richard and Catriona to sweep you off your feet and into their Vale!

Reviewed in July 2001 by Celia.

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